Two long-time Dalhousie faculty members are part of the latest set of appointments to the Order of Canada, among the highest civilian honours for merit in the country.
Mary Anne White, professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Fred Wien, professor emeritus in the School of Social Work, received the honour along with 67 others as part of Governor General David Johnston's 2015 year-end appointments.
Both Dr. White and Dr. Wien began their academic careers at universities in southern Ontario before taking up positions at Dal where they went on to achieve many academic and non-academic milestones.
Invitations into the order — as a member, officer, or companion — are made by the Governor General based on recommendations from an advisory council that considers submissions from members of the public.
Making science accessible for all
Dr. White, who joined Dal from the University of Waterloo in 1983, is perhaps most widely known for her dedication to making scientific knowledge more accessible to the general public through various outreach efforts — one of the contributions cited by the Governor General for her appointment as an officer of the order.
"I just feel that science is so interesting and a lot of people have an interest in science, so we should talk about it more to the public," says Dr. White, who spent 14 years as a regular guest on CBC's Maritime Noon radio show and continues to appear in print and on radio and TV shows to answer science questions.
Dr. White also contributed, together with retired Dal physics professor Gerhard Stroink, to helping start the Discovery Centre in Halifax and spent time in the 1990s as the coordinator for National Chemistry Week. In that role, she helped produced booklets for teachers about classroom science experiments that are still in wide use today.
Dr. White's contributions to the fields of chemistry and materials research are no less inspiring. As the Governor General's citation notes, she’s made huge strides in helping advance the understanding of the thermal properties of materials. She says she's especially proud of her work in developing new materials that store energy well or that change colour with temperature, the latter being used in erasable printer toner products such as Toshiba's e-blue ink that erases when you heat it up.
Dr. White was also one of the founding members of DREAMS, an NSERC-funded Dal research group that explores the intersection of advanced materials, energy and sustainability.
"We've broken down the barriers between chemistry, physics and engineering when it comes to these subjects, and that's how I think the world really is," she says, noting that program will be wrapping up this spring once its funding ends, but will have a lasting legacy on graduate research and teaching at Dal.
Building research capacity in disadvantaged communities
Dr. Wien's appointment as a member of the order is in recognition of his work in supporting First Nations communities across Atlantic Canada and in promoting "economic and social autonomies."
Dr. Wien first arrived at Dal in 1973, after a short stint at Western University, to work on a project looking into low-income employment in the Maritimes as part of a social policy research program at the now-defunct Institute for Public Affairs.
While he'd spent some time working on First Nations issues during a summer job in Ottawa as a doctoral student at Cornell University, the Dal project took him directly into Mi'kmaq and other communities across Nova Scotia where he began a research career based on building relationships based on trust.
"Rather than going in and saying 'You need to do research on this or do that,' I would say 'Where are you at and what are you trying to achieve and how can I be helpful to that?" explains Dr. Wien, who went on to later join and serve as director of the then-named Maritime School of Social Work from 1981-1986 and again on two other occasions for shorter terms.
Dr. Wien stuck to this research approach throughout his career on projects spanning everything from economic development to health and social issues in First Nations communities.
He had a hand in developing a degree program for Mi'kmaq staffing a new child and family services programs for Mi’kmaq individuals, and also played an integral role in a project that led to the creation of the Ulnooweg Development Group, an organization that provides commercial lending and support services for new and existing Aboriginal businesses in the Atlantic region
"These communities have historically faced a lot of disruption, dispossession and external controls, so their economic base has been very weak," he says, pinpointing Membertou in Cape Breton as a community that went from relying on outside funding for 80 to 90 per cent of its budget to about 15 to 20 per cent in the past 25 years.
Dr. Wien's expertise led him into roles on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People and other advisory committees serving those communities. And although he retired from Dal six years ago, he remains actively engaged in research, including a current project exploring how those First Nations communities can effectively regain control over administering their own social programs.
He cites one of his most lasting contributions as fostering a trust in research among First Nations leaders and helping equip those communities with the skills to do their own research.
Further Dal connections
Several Dal alumni and honorary degree recipients were also recognized in the most recent Order of Canada announcements. They included former Prince Edward Island premier and senator Catherine Callbeck (BEd '63), former federal Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy (LLD '01), Nobel Prize winning physicist Art McDonald (BSc '64, MSc '65, LLD '97), and noted philanthropist David Bisset (LLB '62, LLD '03).
Callbeck and Bissett were invited into the order as "members," while Axworthy and McDonald were promoted to the rank of "companion.”
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